For the Love of Books

Books and I have a pretty great relationship. I’ve loved to read for as long as I remember. I have distinct memories of reading to my parents for homework during elementary school and my dad reading to me at night before going to bed. I’m from a family of readers. I find it hilarious when all four of us are home, watching tv, and we each have reading material (usually a book) for during the commercial breaks. I even have a Books category of posts here on the blog and a Books tab where I’ve chronicled the books I’ve read for the past several years.

The past two years I’ve had the simple goal to read in a book for fun every day. It could be a page or a whole book. It all counted. I’m happy to say I successfully completed this goal for the past two years. It’s a goal again for this year. One thing I have noticed is that while I’m reading every day, I’m not really pushing myself with what I’m reading. I find that it’s easier to re-read a favorite book or series rather than take the leap to read something new. That’s a big leap…because what if you don’t like what you picked?

So this year, I’m making some changes. While I was on vacation over the Christmas holiday, I stumbled upon the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy because of an Instagram post I saw about the “What Should I Read Next?” podcast, which is hosted by the author of this blog. Ah the black hole of the internet. 🙂 What I found was a great book blog and a podcast where people talk about books they love, books they hate, what they want their reading lives to be like, and recommendations for what they should read next. In just the couple of weeks I’ve been listening to the podcast and reading the blog, I’ve reignited my excitement for reading. Well, I don’t know if my excitement ever went away…maybe it’s just more pronounced.

With the start of 2017, I’m documenting that I’m reading every day and I’m also noting WHAT I’m reading every day. What’s missing from my completed book list is the fact I read books I don’t finish. I want to see if there are any patterns in the “didn’t finish” pile. I’m also doing a mini-book club with my sister. A couple summers ago we read Sense & Sensibility at pretty much the same time and fun with that. Now we’re starting Persuasion together. I’m also currently reading Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt. It’s a good one! What’s even better is that I have ideas for what I’ll read next.

Because let’s be honest, as a reader, the hardest question is, “What Should I Read Next?”

June 2016 Trip: North Carolina

I’m back with the final installment about my June 2016 trip! Feel free to read about Shenandoah National Park and traversing the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia. For the final couple days of my trip, I visited my friend Cassie who lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She moved there last December so I jumped at the chance to visit her for a couple days. I rolled into Winston-Salem early Sunday afternoon and stayed until early Tuesday morning. On Sunday, we went out for lunch at Village Tavern where I embraced being in the South and had sweet tea. Yum! We also toured the HanesBrands Corporate offices, where she works, had coffee at Camino Bakery & Coffee Bar, and wandered around downtown in the art district. There was wall art everywhere throughout this area of downtown and I couldn’t resist snapping a few photos. We talked about anything and everything. It was sooo fun to catch up with her.

Cassie at Hanes Brands HQ

Cassie at HanesBrands HQ

Winston-Salem, NC - Artivity area in arts district with Cassie

Cassie & I

Winston-Salem, NC - murals in art district

Art in downtown Winston-Salem

On Monday, Cassie had to work her normal day and I vegged at her apartment. I had been going non-stop for almost a week. It was so nice to not do a whole lot. Once she was done with work, we ventured out. Our first stop was Tart Sweets. When I first started doing my research about Winston-Salem, I found Tart Sweets through Instagram. I knew instantly that I had to make a visit to this bakery/coffee shop. It’s in a converted old house and is gorgeous. Here’s the inside.

Winston-Salem, NC - Tart Sweets

Tart Sweets – inside

After Tart Sweets, we walked around Wake Forest University. While I don’t ever see myself working at a private university, I do love walking through the grounds. They’re usually absolutely gorgeous. On the Wake Forest campus, my favorite building was the chapel.

Winston-Salem, NC - Wake Forest University Chapel

Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University

Tuesday morning meant an early start (6am!). I had a late morning flight out of Charlotte, so I had to get on the road for a couple hour drive, return my rental car, and get through security. Everything travel-wise went smoothly and I was back in Duluth by 5:30pm. Whenever I fly, I try to book a window seat. I love watching the country go by underneath me. I couldn’t resist snapping a picture once I saw Lake Superior. As much as I love to travel, I love coming home too.

View of Lake Superior from plane

Lake Superior from the air

Well, that’s it for my June 2016 trip. Next up, planning for my 2017 trips! As of right now, I’ll be venturing to New York City and Portland, Oregon. Time to get some research done.

June 2016 Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway

Now we’re onto the next part of my June 2016 trip adventure – the Blue Ridge Parkway. The BRP, as I like to call it, runs through Virginia and North Carolina, connecting Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. On the National Park Service website, it describes the BRP as this: “A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other: a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals, and providing opportunities for enjoying all that makes this region of the country so special.” The BRP is gorgeous! I drove miles 1 to 200 in Virginia, over two days.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA

I used a combination of web research (mainly NPS website and looking for posts on Pinterest) and print research. I happened to find a travel book by Moon Travel Guides specifically about the Blue Ridge Parkway at my local Barnes & Noble. The book also had a good amount of information on Shenandoah National Park.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - mile 19

The view up above is a favorite. I will say it wasn’t an instant, in-the-moment favorite (even though I did really like it), but one I’ve grown to absolutely love since I’ve been home. If I remember correctly, it was around mile 19.

There are official Visitor Centers all along the BRP. I stopped at 5 of them – Humpback Rocks, James River, Peaks of Otter, Rocky Knob, and Mabry Mill.


This photo…I love it. I wanted to capture what it looked like to actually be driving on the road. It was such a great experience and I wanted to hold onto that memory. The traffic was surprisingly light (even though it was the weekend), so it was no problem to just stop in the middle of the road, grab the photo, and keep on with the journey.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - Chimney Rock Mtn Overlook

My instant favorite view is this one. It was taken at the Chimney Rock Mountain Overlook at mile 45. So many layers of blue! The photo doesn’t do it justice.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - Otter Creek Dam area

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - The Saddle

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - official signage at Rocky Knob Visitor Center

Here’s the road signage for the parkway. Fun fact, the sign would show what side the upcoming overlook was, by the orientation of the image. If the mountains were on the left (as above) your overlook was on the left. It did take me awhile to figure it out. Once I did, it was helpful.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - Mabry mill

The Mabry Mill (pictured above) was my final major stop on the Parkway. I stayed overnight Saturday in Roanoke, VA (great spot with a lot of options!) and drove my final 80 miles of the Parkway on Sunday morning. My goal was to make it to Winston-Salem, NC by early afternoon. My BRP book said this about Mabry Mill, “Called by many ‘the most picturesque spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway,’ Mabry Mill is among the top five places to photograph in any season. Making it a sure stop on your journey.” It is also a interpretive center to give visitors an idea of the agricultural/pastoral life in this section of the Appalachian Mountains.

I hopped off the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile 200 in Fancy Gap, VA to make my way to Winston-Salem, NC to see my friend Cassie. I’ll be back again soon to share the final portion of my trip.

You can read part 1 about Shenandoah National Park.

June 2016 Trip: Shenandoah NP

This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to the mid-Atlantic region of the US. My reason for traveling was an assessment institute for work. Once I got the okay to attend the institute, I decided to add a few days to the trip since I was visiting an area of the country new to me. Initially, the institute was to take place in Charlotte, NC, and then was moved to just outside of Baltimore, MD. When the trip was still to Charlotte, my loose plan had been to spend a few days visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park and also my friend Cassie who lives in North Carolina. Then all the plans changed! I was so set on seeing Cassie, so I had to figure out how to get myself from Baltimore to Winston-Salem, NC. Enter, America’s Favorite Drive. I wanted a fun way to get myself through Maryland and Virginia, preferably with some National Park stuff along the way. I drove through Maryland; a snapshot of West VirginiaShenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia; and North Carolina. My plan is to write separate posts about the BRP and North Carolina. Today is all about Shenandoah!

I’ll rewind a little bit because I have to share a photo from the very start of my trip. I flew Duluth to Minneapolis to Baltimore. I left Duluth on the first flight out at 5:15am! The sun was rising as we were taking off and it was gorgeous!

Leaving Duluth at Sunrise

Fast-forward 4 days, I’m done with the work portion of my trip and I’m off to do fun things!  I picked up my rental car and ventured to Shenandoah. Let me just say, Maryland is gorgeous. There were so many trees and it was so lush. I also happened to drive through just about the worst rainstorm I’ve ever driven in. I was so happy when I got out of that. Not fun.

Shenandoah NP, VA

I got to Shenandoah around 3pm (my institute went until about 11am and I left the Baltimore area around 12/12:30pm). Since I was staying in the park at one of the lodges, I only had to get through about half the park. For those who’ve never been to Shenandoah…the park is rather narrow and about 100 miles long. The single road that runs north/south (Skyline Drive) has a speed limit of about 35mph. It’s designed for you to meander and enjoy the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Plus, slower speeds are safer for the animals that live in the park. I stayed at the Big Meadows Lodge in one of the terrace rooms. I so highly recommend it! My view was of the mountains and I had the perfect view at sunset.

Shenandoah NP, VA - Range View Overlook 1 of 2

I journaled at the end of each day throughout my trip. Here’s a portion of what I wrote about the park.

Oh, Shenandoah. This park is something else. It’s officially the 10th National Park I have visited and the 15th overall National Park System site. This park is so gorgeous. Every view and overlook are beautiful. The drive on Skyline Drive is…the best. The trees and the slowness…I love it all. A preview of all day tomorrow as I drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Shenandoah NP, VA - 1 of 2

Before I got to the lodge for the evening, it started raining. It paused long enough for me to get all my stuff to my room. Then, more rain. Magically, the rain stopped and the clouds parted for sunset. Just stunning. I kept pinching myself because I was able to walk 10 steps out of my room and have this incredible view. Again, booking the room at one of the lodges in the park was sooo worth it.

Shenandoah NP, VA - Sunset outside room at Big Meadow Lodge

The next morning was so foggy! After I got ready for the day, I ventured into the main part of the lodge for breakfast. After breakfast, I walked a path about a mile to the Byrd Visitor Center. I really had wanted to do some hiking in the park, I just didn’t have enough time.

Shenandoah NP, VA - walk to Byrd Visitor Center

The fog was so creepy, yet cool, all at the same time. It was probably some of the worst fog I’ve experienced, and I live on Lake Superior,where we know fog! So that’s saying something.

Shenandoah NP, VA - walk to Byrd Visitor Center

After checking out the Visitor Center and picking up a few souvenirs, I headed back to the lodge. I checked out and got back on the road. I drove through the second half of the park. It was rather foggy, so I felt like I really didn’t see too much. Oh well. As you leave Shenandoah National Park, you connect to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’ll leave that adventure for another day!

Time For a Change

It’s time for a change. Plain and simple.

I have had this tiny corner of the internet since early 2010, and I have loved it. Yet, over the past couple years, I have found myself less and less inspired to write. When I started this blog, the premise was to follow my journey as a grad student intern during a summer in Oregon, and then again during the following school year while I was interning at UW-Madison. Then I chronicled my first few years as a new professional in the world of higher education. While I’ve always shared my travels and photography, the core of this blog has always been my work in higher education. It was a great way for me to process my internships and starting my position in Duluth. And now, I share very little here. It makes me sad because I do love blogging, writing, and sharing. One thing to understand is that a major portion of my work as a career counselor is doing the social media for my office. Among those platforms is a blog, and it’s all about career-related topics. While I am not a main writer for the office blog, I am working on it just about every day. With the work on the office blog, along with all of the other social media I do for my job, I have found myself drifting away from social media in my personal life (with a few exceptions). I felt that the premise of my blog was too closely tied to work, and I like to have a fairly clear separation between work and the rest of life. I have found myself on many occasions wanting to write about some topic but thinking it didn’t jive with the tone of the blog.

So, I’m making a change. The title, the premise, the look, everything.

I recently was watching Julie and Julia. It’s hands-down one of my favorite movies. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the quick version. Julie Powell is lost in her life as she’s turning 30. She loves to cook. She decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s cookbook in a year, and blog about it. I’m always inspired when I watch this movie. While I was watching it the other day, I thought about starting a completely new blog. One that was separate from my career and focused on the things I love outside of work. A place where I could share about scrapbooking, traveling, or updating my family cookbook, and not have it feel weird or “off-brand.” I realized, though, that I didn’t want to have a completely separate blog to manage. It seemed unnecessary. So, we’ll stay here at and spruce the place up a bit.

Here are a few things to know as we move forward:
I like to make things. I like to play with paper. I like to cook and, on occasion, bake. I like to capture moments in time. I like to travel. I like to read books and watch movies. I like to choose joy on a regular basis.

So here’s what I came up with: Ellen Makes Things.

Thanks for sticking around all these years. Or, welcome to the party, if you’re new. I make no promises about the consistency of posting. But I do promise I’m going to have fun sharing whatever I decide to make.

Happy Birthday NPS

Tomorrow (August 25th) the National Park Service is celebrating 100 years of existence. How exciting is that?! National Parks have been named one of “America’s Best Ideas.” The Ken Burns six-part documentary on the parks explains this: “THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA is nonetheless a story of people: people from every conceivable background – rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs; people who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved, and in doing so reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy.” (source) Having been to national parks, historic sites, memorials, lake shores, and more…I agree with this quote whole-heartedly.

Mount Rushmore

I stepped foot into my first national park just over 6 years ago. Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Amazement. Breathtaking. Wanting to photograph every view just in case I’d forget it someday. Just pausing to soak it all in. This adventure into Badlands NP would start a love affair with: the National Park Service, travel, hiking, state parks, nature, and more. I’ve visited a number of NPS sites over the past 6 years, but it’s just a drop in the bucket of what’s possible. President Obama just designated the 413th NPS site: Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine.

Apostle Islands

In honor of the centennial of the National Park Service, I thought I’d share some of my favorite photos from my visits to different sites. To date I have visited:

There are so many more I want to visit. I have a pretty strong feeling that I’ll gladly spend the rest of my life chipping away at this “to-visit” list.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - Chimney Rock Mtn Overlook


Ute Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

Shenandoah NP, VA


Voyageurs NP

Going on an Adventure

Happy Summer!! Tomorrow I’m celebrating a pretty big milestone…5 years of working at UMD. Woo! I still love the work, the people, and the students. I can’t ask for much more than that.

I’m also excitedly off from work for the next couple weeks. Yay Vacation! I’m attending ACPA’s Student Affairs Assessment Institute in Baltimore and then hitting the road for a couple day road trip through Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. So excited! I’ve been prepping and mapping out my route. Can’t wait to go on my adventure! For prep materials I’m using a mixture of State Visitor guides, Google, Pinterest, and two books by Moon Travel Guides. Per usual, too many fun things to do and not enough time.

Adventure Vacation

Source: the #adventure digital word art is from Ali Edwards and the Pinterest Passport freebies she has available right now to help celebrate the start of summer.

The Bulldog Life

Hello fine friends! Sorry I haven’t been around lately. The good news is I made it through the holidays and the spring recruiting season in fine fashion. Every spring, I coordinate my office’s appearance at Admissions events called Admitted Students Days. These are days when students who have applied and been admitted to UMD can visit the campus and solidify the choice to attend UMD. Anyway, I just wanted to share the picture I took today for a social media post. It’s one of my favorites I’ve done for work in a long time.


Walking by the Lake

This weekend we had some great unseasonably warm weather. High 30s! Trust me, in northern Minnesota, that is warm for this time of year. Early Saturday morning I decided to venture down to the lake shore with camera in hand. Specifically, I went to Canal Park by the Aerial Lift Bridge and our lighthouse. There was some beautiful light as it was shortly after sunrise (which, right now, is ridiculously late). During this time of year, the sun is rising as I’m going to work and setting when I’m leaving work…and my office has no windows. I’m starved for natural light & fresh air. Venturing out in the early morning was just the booster I needed.

The walkway out to the lighthouse is closed for the season, so I got a fun shot of the lighthouse through the gate. The gate itself is green…so I changed the photo to black and white. Much better. Below are a few of my favorite photos from the morning. Lighthouses


Version 2

Snow Falling

Just another quick photo for you today. The snow was falling last night in that perfect quiet kind of way. I just had to walk outside for a moment to experience and capture it. I snapped a handful of shots and the one below is my favorite. Not technically perfect, and that doesn’t really bother me.

Snow Falling